Toward a Libertarian-Progressive Alliance

January 16, 2011

by Roger Koppl

Ralph Nader recently appeared on Judge Napolitano’s “Freedom Watch” to herald the rise of a coalition between “libertarian conservatives” and progressives.  Within Congress, he says, both groups put principle above party.  The first episode in this new alliance will be cooperation on the whistleblower bill.

Let’s hope it happens! Libertarians and progressives have a common interest in ending militarism and corporatism.  The economic point of view tells us that we can do so only if we are willing to think of structural changes, institutional changes.  To that end we need to rethink corporate law in the US.  Nader has attacked the idea of “corporate personhood.”

In his Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, F. A. Hayek proposed something different: Don’t let one corporation take an ownership share in another.  He thought this reform would discourage the telescoping of power into the hands of a small managerial elite.  It is high time we think seriously about such proposals for institutional reforms in the market for corporate control. Reform of corporate law is an early and urgent item on the reform agenda of the libertarian-progressive alliance.

42 Responses to “Toward a Libertarian-Progressive Alliance”

  1. Eric Dondero Says:

    Firstly, Ron Paul represents the left-side of the libertarian movement on foreign policy. Those of us who are Pro-Defense libertarians and antiIslamoFascism want nothing to do with the surrender-tarians on the Left.

    Secondly, the Nader people blocked us Libertarian Party petitioners in at least 3 states in 2008, from gathering signatures for Bob Barr for President. Ohio, CT, and New Hampshire. They are our enemy. Why in the bloody hell would we want anything to do with Nader and his gang of crooks?

    Thirdly, Ralph Nader? The one who single-handidly instituted mandatory seat belt laws in the entire United States? Sorry, but we Libertarians absolutely hate the Nanny-State – seat belt laws, smoking bans, taxes on beer and liquor, political correctness, ect…

    Progressive – Libertarian alliance? Thanks, but no thanks.

  2. Eric Dondero Says:

    Correction: Your above article should read “leftwing libertarians,” or the “leftside of the libertarian movement” or the “isolationist wing of libertarians” oppose the military.

    We Pro-Defense libertarians are very much in favor of the War on Islamo-Fascism. Ron Paul is great on domestic issues. Absolutely horrendous and entirely anti-liberty on his foreign policy stances.

  3. Jim Pier Says:

    I concur. Progressivism is closer to socialism than libertarianism. It is a much greater threat to Liberty than conservatism. Corporatism is statist, not conservative. Libertarians need to recognize that the path to a smaller state is through the GOP. Like it or not, there are two US parties that matter. It’s time to put effort into pulling the GOP relentlessly toward a liberty agenda.


  4. Pete Boettke is running a Sunday quiz over at CP. So I’ll start one here. Which “surrender-tarian” of the Left said: “War is the greatest calamity with which a nation can be visited.”

    One major problem for a Left/Right alliance is the Right is so divided as evidenced by prior comments. Ron Paul is not remotely a man of the Left, but of the Old Right. The pro-war right cannot connect principles governing international order with those governing order at home.

    The argument against economic intervention is that there are unintended consequences. These consequences lead to results different from and even opposite those intended. In markets, and in international relations.

    The best place to start on the last point is Chris Coyne’s “After War.” He applies Austrian economics to war and its consequences.

    There is also a Left/Right divide. The alliance Roger suggests has been attempted, but the lack of trust from prior conflicts has made that difficult. Effort may be continuing.

  5. Eric Dondero Says:

    We Pro-War Rightists are Pro-War on Islamo-Fascism for the precise reason that Islamism is inherently anti-Liberty. They despise Capitalism. They want to stamp out civil liberties across the board, whether it be women’s rights, the rights of gays to be left alone, legal alcohol, gambling, free speech, you name it.

    The only consistent position for someone who supports Liberty is to oppose Radical Islam and Sharia Law.


  6. The corporatism problem is acute in financial services. The too-big-to-fail policy provides incentives for banks to grow to size.

    In the aftermath of the recent crisis, the market share of the top 5 banks has grown. That makes it even less likely that they would be allowed to fail. Here is a link to an analysis.
    http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2011/01/15/number-of-the-week-big-banks-gobble-up-market-share/

  7. Othyem Says:

    On the contrary, Eric, war is anathema to liberty. Yes, “Islamo-Fascism” is also anti-liberty and a moral travesty. I would like to see it cease. Same with poverty, unemployment, and drug use. But like many things, the act of heavy-handed interference from the state, no matter how benevolent, only makes things worse.

    I don’t understand how one can say Ron Paul (or anyone) can be ANTI-liberty on a foreign policy of non-intervention. Is it pro-liberty for one to force another to pay something the former wants? What about war? I find war in ANYTHING else but the most dire circumstances of self-defense (e.g., genocide) absolutely morally repugnant.

  8. koppl Says:

    Unfortunately, I can’t comment now, but I always like to encourage people to read Twain’s The War Prayer:
    http://warprayer.org/

  9. Othyem Says:

    Yes excellent read. This brings to mind the dismissive attitude those who are for war have for “collateral damage”. “Oh”, they say, “war is inherently dangerous. People are gonna die, get used to it.” It’s, of course, much easier to say this when your family and friends aren’t the ones accidently being maimed and killed.

  10. Lode Cossaer Says:

    A pro-war libertarian? Is that like a pro free market communist?


  11. The great liberal program in the 19th century was summarized in “Peace, Rentrenchment and Reform.” Liberals realized that war is the enemy of markets and liberty.

    The author of the quote in my first comment was James Mill, father of John Stuart. From Adam Smith on, the classical economists criticized war and militarism.

    In more contemporary times, Senator Taft argued that a strong economy was the source of the real strength of America. Eisenhower kept to that tradtion. He famously warned of the Military-Industrial Complex. (Cato held a conference this week on the 50th anniversary of that speech.)

  12. MikeP Says:

    Why does anyone even respond to someone who describes himself as “pro war”?

  13. Allan Walstad Says:

    By all means let us work for liberty with those who will work for liberty with us, issue by issue. If that’s what is meant by “coalition,” I’m all for it. Coalition with those on the left when they support liberty, coalition with those on the right when they do. It is the government, not the corporations, which needs to be reformed — starting with a substantial scaling down of expense and meddlesomeness. Once government largesse and power levers are removed, business will have to profit by serving their customers rather than through political influence. If I’m not mistaken, Adam Smith had this figured out already.

  14. Ben Says:

    There was capitalism (a primitive form of it, admittedly) under Islam long before there was capitalism in the West. It coincided, curiously enough, with the Golden Age of Islam. It’s a fascinating historical period, though I’m hardly an expert.

  15. Troy Camplin Says:

    I’m a little leery of a coalition with the progressives on anti-corporatism because they and libertarians mean completely different things by that. Opposite things, in fact. You can only create coalitions with those who share the same goals. On economic issues, libertarians and progressives don’t share the same goals.

  16. Prateek Sanjay Says:

    Eric Dondero simply does not know the difference between terror operations of Muslims and their domestic policies.

    The last I checked, even conservatives were only interested in stopping terrorist attacks, and not interested in reforming laws in the Middle East. Somehow, the war on “Islamo-fascism” is a war to ensure that gambling is once again allowed in the villages of Yemen! Mr. Dondero, your position is neither progressive nor conservative, it is simply incoherent and asinine.

    As for Ben, there was no Golden Age of Islam, there was only an inheritance of Persian culture. Much the same here in India, where there was no Golden Age, but a Persian inheritance. The great people of Fars have been the finest civilization of Asia Minor, and while the people of Fars had much to give to all else, they had little to take from others.

  17. Current Says:

    > Why does anyone even respond to someone
    > who describes himself as “pro war”?

    He didn’t describe himself as pro war, he described himself as pro defense.

  18. koppl Says:

    What Jerry said.

    Liberalism is always a minority view and liberals must make whatever alliances they can in defense of the division of labor and social cooperation. In his book Liberalism Mises said, “The liberal abhors war, not, like the humanitarian, in spite of the fact that it has beneficial consequences, but because it has only harmful ones.” Peace is a necessary part of the liberal agenda.

  19. Pietro M. Says:

    A coalition with the leftist may in principle not be worse than a coalition with conservatives, i.e., paleolibertarianism.

    When it will come to put rules on fiscal and monetary policy, however, the alliance will tremble. When it will come to put healthcare, social security and retirement expenditures on the leash, besides, the coalition will finally crumble down.

    This said, it’s a pity, although a predictable pity, that this whistleblower reform has been delayed, or maybe killed. I haven’t understood a single line of the voting procedure, however, I didn’t know one only vote is enough to stop a bill if 51-59 senators agree on it.

    On these single issues it is possible and even advisable to find consensus: in the end, liberty is not about “left” and “right”, it’s about constraining both left and right. Whoever succeeds in pushing similar bills into laws will give a small help to liberty.

    More than this issue-by-issue alliance it’s almost impossible to imagine. Liberty has no allies in politics.

  20. Pietro M. Says:

    I also fear that anticorporativism hides antimarket propaganda. In the end, interventionism begets interest groups: crony capitalism is not capitalism at all. This is evident to *us*.

    Blaming corporations for crony capitalism is like blaming fishermen in a tragedy of the commons: the source of the problem is the original externality, i.e., the redistributive-regulatory state.

    I don’t know to what extent blaming the effect instead of the cause is politically useful in reducing the real source of the problem. It may help, but I’m not a fan of therapies based on misdiagnoses.

  21. Current Says:

    I don’t agree with the war in Afghanistan and I didn’t agree with Iraq.

    But, I think that Libertarians and many Progressives have a tendency to underestimate the possible threats that the future holds. We should always be very wary about governments wanting to start wars, but we can’t rule the necessity of that completely.

    Something I’m fond of saying on British libertarian sites is “Whoever you are there is someone in the world who hates you”. I think a lot of people forget that. That hate may be irrational, but many people are irrational.

    Today I was reading about the Stuxnet worm that damaged the Iranian nuclear facility. It’s an incredibly clever piece of programming and obviously required a great deal of espionage as well as coding to construct.

    Does anyone here really disagree with the Israelis or the US using it? I certainly don’t.

  22. koppl Says:

    @ Current:

    You can be anti-war without being a pacifist.

  23. Mario Rizzo Says:

    There was discussion in the late 60s and early-mid 70s about a libertarian alliance with the “new” (antiwar) left. Never happened. They would have totally dominated us, in any event.

    Nevertheless, I am not sure what it means to call for an alliance. What am I, for example, supposed to do? Join Ralph Nader’s group? Send him money?

    I’ll just go on saying what I believe and leave the rest to political entrepreneurs.

  24. Zach C Says:

    (Old Rightist) Rose Wilder Lane has a section in The Discovery of Freedom on Islam. Those that believe a market philosophy cannot coexist with Islam should take note!

    http://www.amazon.com/Islam-Discovery-Freedom-Rose-Wilder/dp/0915957736

  25. Lode Cossaer Says:

    Oh, and by the way:

    http://www.minaret.org/

  26. koppl Says:

    Mario,

    I think it means something to have a “alliance.” For example, libertarian students having an event on militarism or corporatism might make a special effort to involve progressives. More generally, to the extant that our points of similarity are recognized, it gets hard to say that libertarians are toadies to corporate interests. It might also help sensitize some libertarians to the ways in which statism is hurting the poor differentially here in the US. Democracy is a process and a conversation. An alliance with progressives on corporatism and militarism changes the conversation the political dynamic. It sure seems worth a try.

  27. Eric Hosemann Says:

    Roger, with all due respect, political alliances mean very little once the real question of politics, who gets the power, is answered. Libertarians will get swallowed by whatever political leviathan they try to glom onto. Neither conservatives nor “progressives” have shown themselves particularly capable of defending libertarian principles. The quarter century has given us plenty of examples of their mutual willingness to subvert their own in the name of political gain. I prefer Mario’s position. I would rather provide my conservative and progressive friends with the occasional stinging dose of reality than hustle to Washington with them, pretending we’re all fighting the good fight.


  28. A friend on the Left reminds me that the “Audit the Fed” provision in the Dodd/Frank Act was the product of a libertarian/progressive alliance.

    The movement to curb the “too big to fail” policy is a developing Left/Right effort. You have the likes of Simon Johnson and Gene Fama working together.

    Currently the ACLU and a group of libertarian and conservative lawyers, including former AG Ed Meese, have joined to curb the abuses of civil asset forfeiture.

    If you back to the 1970s, a coalition of conservatives and Greens defeated the SST.


  29. There’s a great deal of common ground for libertarians, progressive/liberals, and conservatives to share. None of us have any interest in perpetual war, bailouts for politically connected bank holding companies, an end to civil liberties, and national bankruptcy.

    It’s really the political ruling class (across the spectrum) vs. the rest of us (across the spectrum).

    I’ve met libertarian Muslims, enough of them to understand that Islam isn’t inherently anti-liberty. Islam is like Christianity in this regard; adherents dig around in their religion to come up with justifications for their political beliefs, whether pro-or-anti freedom.

    And yes, crony capitalism (mercantilism, more correctly) needs to be shut down.

  30. J Oxman Says:

    Didn’t Rothbard make a deal with the devil in the 1960s? He was not too happy with what happened there, if I read him right.

  31. Josh Says:

    Roger,

    Maybe others have made this point, but it seems to be that in my lifetime libertarianism might make significant strides, but I do not think that it will necessary become the majority. Nonetheless, libertarians can be particularly powerful even as a minority if that would stand firm and support proposals of certain progressives and certain conservatives. In other words, libertarians don’t need to become partners with progressives OR conservatives, but rather selectively side with one or the other on particular issues for the advancement of liberty.


  32. The question, I suppose, is whether we’re talking about an alliance with “Progressives” or about an alliance with the Left. If you identify with the Progressive movement, you’re pretty unavoidably a statist who favors expert power over decentralization and freedom. The Left seems considerably more diverse.

    Charles Johnson offers a great discussion of both goals and strategies here:

    http://radgeek.com/gt/2008/06/16/all_i-2/

    A rather dodgy character makes the same case less passionately here:

  33. gcallah Says:

    “We Pro-War Rightists are Pro-War on Islamo-Fascism…”

    Eric, anyone who thinks “Islamo-Fascism” is a meaningful category in political theory, rather than a bit of smarmy propaganda, has declared themselves to be a theoretical nitwit.

  34. gcallah Says:

    current wrote:
    “He didn’t describe himself as pro war, he described himself as pro defense.”

    Here’s what Dondero wrote:
    “We Pro-War Rightists…”

    So, I think he pretty explicitly DID describe himself as pro-war!

  35. Troy Camplin Says:

    Subtle and diplomatic as ever, Gene.🙂

  36. Tom Dougherty Says:

    Roger,

    I don’t get it. Never hearing about this bill before I googled it and it appears that literally every article I read supported this legislation, the protection of federal workers. It appeared to have support from Republicans and Democrats, but there was one anonymous Republican Senator who was able to kill the bill. Given that it has such wide support between Republicans and Democrats, why do libertarians who have almost zero political power need to form an alliance with so called “progressive” who favor little restraint on government power.

    This seems really strange that a libertarian would argue for such a meaningless alliance for a bill that already has such widespread support with the political elite. But I am really glad to learn that this bill that protects federal workers is going to end militarism and corporatism.

  37. koppl Says:

    Oh, turn down the sarcasm dial, Tom, and read what I said. I think it’s reasonably clear that *Nader* says that’ll be the first episode, which could be true no matter the force of the bill, its desirability, or whether it has any connection to militarism and corporatism.

  38. Tom Dougherty Says:

    Mario,

    Thanks for the link. Here are some of my concerns with this unholy alliance. Both groups want to cut military spending, but I think for different reasons. Libertarians, I feel, want to cut military spending as one program among many for overall government spending reductions. Progressives want to cut military spending in order to increase spending in other of domestic spending programs. Progressives don’t want a reduction in overall government spending just a shift in the composition of spending.

    Libertarians and progressives want to eliminate the WTO and NAFTA. But they want to eliminate these institutions for different reasons. And what each group wants to replace the WTO and NAFTA with are different. Libertarians feel that the WTO and NAFTA are managed trade and would rather have the US unilaterally reduce its trade barriers. Progressives see the WTO and NAFTA as free trade and since they are against free trade they support the elimination of WTO and NAFTA. So, after WTO and NAFTA are gone, do progressives support reducing all US barriers to trade? Of course not! Progressives and their union buddies want barriers to trade. They will support tariffs and quota to “protect” American workers from foreigners stealing their jobs.

    Both groups want to go after the Federal Reserve. Libertarians want to end the Federal Reserve, but is this what progressives want? Why, no, the plan is not to end Central Banking but to rest control of the Central Bank from Bernanke and Board of Governors and give it Congress. Talk about a disaster. Bank loans will be given on the basis of political connections. Every monetary crank in Congress will now be in charge of determining Central Bank policy. I say no thanks to this as well. If there is going to be a Central Bank I would rather have Ben Bernanke in charge than Barney Frank.

    Cutting defense spending, eliminating the WTO and NAFTA, auditing the Central Bank are all means to an end. But the end for progressives and libertarians are not the same. And frankly I prefer the status quo over helping progressives achieve their hideous ends.


  39. […] Wall Street.  And we have several voices calling for a Progressive-Libertarian alliance.  (See here, here, and here.)  Such an alliance might be able to do some good.  It will come to nothing, […]


  40. […] Wall Street.  And we have several voices calling for a Progressive-Libertarian alliance.  (See here, here, and here.)  Such an alliance might be able to do some good.  It will come to nothing, […]


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